How I Became an Egalitarian: Third Encounter with 1 Tim 2:12

This is Part 10 in a series that started here.

One evening, a small group of friends gathered together at the home of Pastor Dora Wang.  The idea for the study came about from Pam’s conversations with her about the debate over women in ministry.  That night, Pastor Dora led us through a study of 1 Timothy 2:11-15, based on her six years of doctoral research at Westminster Seminary.  Below you will find my write-up from the notes I took from that Bible study.  Feel free to skip to the conclusion first if you don’t have time to read everything right now.

1 Timothy 2:12 says, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

The WOMAN – What do we know about the women who are being referred to in these verses? To understand the background, we need to examine the literary context, i.e. use the surrounding Scripture to help us. We can learn more about these women and the men of this time in Ephesus by looking at the rest of 1 Timothy.

  • 1 Ti 2:9, “I also want women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or expensive clothes.”
  • 1 Ti 5:11, “As for younger widows…when their sensual desires overcome their dedication to Christ, they want to marry…”
  • 1 Ti 5:13, “Besides, they get into the habit of being idle and going about from house to house. And not only do they become idlers, but also gossips and busybodies, saying things they ought not to.”
  • 1 Ti 5:14-15, “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan.”
  • 2 Ti 3:6-7, “They (they = false teachers) are the kind who worm their way into the homes and gain control over weak-willed women, who are loaded down with sins and are swayed by all kinds of evil desires, always learning but never able to acknowledge the truth.”

OBSERVATIONS: From these verses, we can make observations that the women were rich (because they wore expensive clothes), they cared about their looks, and some of their actions were not decent or proper (and that is why Paul needs to exhort them to be decent). Some of them were young widows. Most of them were idle and had nothing to do; they went from house to house to spread gossip, slander, and false teaching. These women were “loaded down with sins” “swayed by all kinds of evil desires.”  They had influence on others as they went from house to house spreading false teaching.

FALSE TEACHERS: The issue at hand is the false teaching.  Let’s take a look at more of the false teaching in this book.

  • 1 Ti 1:3-4, “As I urged you when I went to Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies.”
  • 1 Ti 1:6-7, “Some have…turned to meaningless talk. They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm.”
  • 1 Ti 4:1-3, “The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons… They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods.”
  • 1 Ti 6:3-5, “If anyone teaches false doctrines…he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malcicious talk…and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.”
  • 2 Ti 3:6,8, “They are the kind who worm their way into homes and gain control over weak-willed women…these men oppose the truth — men of depraved minds, who, as far as the faith is concerned are rejected.”

OBSERVATIONS: These false teachers influenced both men and women.  However, it was the Ephesian women who were propagating and passing along the the false teaching.

The MEN: How do we know the men were also influenced?

  • 1 Ti 2:8, “I want men everywhere to lift up holy hands in prayer, without anger or disputing.”
  • 1 Ti 6:20-21, “Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith.”
  • 2 Ti 4:3, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

OBSERVATIONS: The men were every bit as influenced and swayed by false teaching as the women were. They were angry and engaged in a lot of heated debating and disputing, and godless chatter about the false knowledge that had come to them. Some wandered from the faith already.

FALSE TEACHING: Just what exactly was the false teaching about? We need to look at the historical context by studying more about how Ephesus is described at that time in the book of Acts.

  • Acts 19:23-32, “About that time there arose a great disturbance about the Way. A silversmith named Demetrius, who made silver shrines of Artemis, brought in no little business for the craftsmen. He called them together, along with the workmen in related trades, and said: ‘Men, you know we receive a good income from this business. …see and hear how this fellow Paul has convinced and led astray large numbers of people here in Ephesus and in practically the whole province of Asia…There is danger…that the temple of the great goddess Artemis will be discredited and the goddess herself, who is worshiped throughout the province of Asia and the world, will be robbed of her divine majesty.’ When they heard this, they were furious and began shouting: ‘Great is Artemis of the Ephesians!’” Soon the whole city was in an uproar. The people seized…Paul’s traveling companions…and rushed…into the theater…. The assembly was in confusion…”

OBSERVATIONS: The city of Ephesus was known for its worship of the goddess Artemis. From these verses, we know that the people did not want this new teaching about the Christ. The mob who rejected Paul and his companions were spurred on by Demetrius and other businessmen who feared losing their businesses in making shrines of Artemis. These verses depicting the angry mob, the fury, the uproar, and the chaos demonstrate how much so the worship of Artemis was saturated and interwoven into the culture and prosperity of Ephesus. The false teaching of the time was, therefore, most likely influenced by beliefs about Artemis. A Jewish scholar, Philo, said, “Without Eve, Adam would’ve never attained knowledge. She was the originator of life and light.” This distortion of the truth, influenced by ideas of Artemis, may be a good summary of the false teaching that the Christian men & women of Ephesus were being misled to believe at that time. This is the background to which Paul wrote, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.”

LEARN – a woman should learn. This is the key to this passage.  He wants them to learn, because they are not learned. They did not know or understand the correct biblical teaching and doctrines. In the context of the day, this is truly radical.  Culturally, women were not allowed to learn in the synagogues.  It was a privilege to learn, and Paul is saying “a woman should learn.” This is the only command in these verses (1 Ti 2:11-12).  (When Paul says later, “I do not permit a woman to teach,” this was not a command.)  In addition, Paul is saying that women should be allowed to study and learn and not be restrained from doing so.

QUIETNESS – in the Greek text (which was the language that the book was originally written in), the word for ‘quietness’ in verse 11 is the same word used for ‘silent’ in verse 12. We know that Paul does not mean that women ought to be completely silent because in 1 Cor. 11, Paul gives instructions to women for appropriate attire for prophesying, and prophesying means to speak and teach during worship in public.  Paul would not contradict himself. The word ‘quietness’ here refers to respect and not challenging or overturning doctrines.  This exhortation is mainly given due to fact that these women were not learned.

SUBMISSION – This submission is not a reference to the men or to their husbands but it is a reference to submitting to God.  Paul is referring to the women’s attitudes as learners — they should be humble, yielded and submitted to God as they learn (which ought to be true of men as well).

I DO NOT PERMIT – (This is not a command from Paul.) This phrase would be better translated, “I’m not permitting.” or “I’m not permitting at this time.” It is circumstantial and not meant to be for long-term. It is the same word used in Mt 19:8, “Jesus replied, ‘Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning.’” When the situation changed, it could change. The situation at Moses’ time was ‘hardened hearts’. The situation during Paul’s time was women who were uneducated. Change of time results in change of permission. Divorce was not meant to be the rule for all time, nor was it for women to not teach.

TEACH OR TO HAVE AUTHORITY – The word “or” here in the Greek is not indicative of one-OR-the-other but rather it links the two words closely together, so it is more like “teach and have authority” – a conjunction.

AUTHORITY – The Greek word that Paul used here is a different type of “authority” than the one he uses repeatedly in his epistles (or in other words, letters). The Greek word here which has been translated “authority” in the English is only used once in the entire Bible, and that one time is here in this verse. In other words, the Greek word here was never used anywhere else in the Bible. It does not mean ‘authority’ in the way that we would normally think. In that day, in that culture, in that time, this word was used to mean “instigating crime/sin” “instigator of evil” and even “instigator of murder.”  Paul is therefore not permitting women to exert the kind of authority that is divisive or that leads others to sin (such as false teaching).

So here is a paraphrase of 1 Ti 2:11-12 in accordance with the above exegesis of these verses, “A woman should learn respectfully and in submission to God, not overturning the correct teachings and doctrines. I’m not permitting a woman to teach at this time (because she is not learned/does not have the right understanding of biblical and scriptural matters) or instigate evil over men (by spreading false doctrine).”

1 Timothy 2:13-15 “For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. But women will be saved through childbearing…”

FORMED – Because Adam was formed first, it is reasonable to assume that he had more time and experience relating with God and heard at least one more time (if not half a dozen more times) God’s command not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Therefore, he had the advantage in being the one who was more taught and educated, so he was not as easily deceived. Eve, on the other hand, came second, so she had a little less ‘education’. This may be a reason that the serpent preyed on her first and the reason she got deceived and passed on the deception to Adam (who, by the way, was there during the deception but didn’t stop her! Gen 3:6).  The situation in Ephesus was similar. The women were less educated, so the false teachers preyed on the women, and used them to pass on the deception and propagate their lies. (Note, women did not come up with the false teaching. They only spread them.) This is what Paul was talking about here.

Challenges: This verse in conjuction with Gen 2:16-17 is often used to argue about the hierarchy of man over women based upon the order of creation (i.e. Adam was formed first).

  • The argument goes as follows: “God formed man first, then He spoke directly to man to command him not to eat of the tree, but it appears that he did not speak directly or tell the woman, and so therefore, ‘we’ are led to believe that man was to teach woman God’s ways.”
  • The counter-argument goes as follows: In Gen 3:2-3 after the serpent challenges Eve about what God did or did not say, she quotes what she heard God say, “You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.” In the Hebrew language, the “You” here is actually “You plural.” In other words, she is quoting God as saying, “You guys” or ”Y’all” or “You all” or “You both” (similar to the word “Ustedes” in Spanish) — the plural has been lost in the English translation. What is the implication? This possibly means that God spoke to the both of them and told both of them directly what his commands and rules are. Therefore, though man may have been formed before woman, God had direct relationship with both man and woman. He taught both directly. The argument that the man needs to teach the woman based on this verse is null or that he is above her in hierarchy based on this verse is also null.

SAVED – the word for ‘saved’ here in the Greek was also used in 2 Tim 4:18 in reference to ‘rescue’ from evil attack. The word here is used similarly to mean rescue and deliverance from false teaching and evil attack. In other words, Paul is saying that if the women live productive lives (by childrearing in their case – because childrearing at that time is equivalent to ‘have a successful job’ and ‘living a productive life’), then they will not be idle and will not go from house to house to spread false teaching. They will be saved and delivered from evil attack (from the false teachers).

Challenges: There are three possible arguments for Paul’s meaning in this verse about being saved through childbearing.

  1. Argument: Safety through childbirth. Unlikely because many godly women have hard labor.
  2. Argument: Saved (as in salvation) through Christ’s birth. Unlikely because the women addressed are already believers. Why would he tell them they could be saved through Christ’s birth if they continue in faith, love, etc.?
  3. Argument: Saved from sin and evil through accepting role of mom. This is likely the best option.  Childbearing and childrearing takes up all your time. Surely, this will rescue these women from being idle and from propagating evil and false teaching.

FINAL CONCLUSION and SUMMARY of 1 Timothy 2:11-15: Based on the above investigation, these verses are not a command from Paul that women must be silent in the churches and not-teach. It does not validate arguments that women cannot teach-and-have-authority over a man. Women were not permitted to teach at that time because they did not have the knowledge of correct doctrine. The implication is that Paul wanted them to learn it first, and then later, when they have learned, they could teach. Women can teach-and-have-authority over men (as we define it in the 21st century) because when Paul did not permit teaching-and-authority in the 1st century, his use of the word meant “do not be an instigator of evil”, not “do not exhort men to follow the Scriptures”. Thus, he did not mean that women cannot preach with authority over men in the way that we define authority in the twenty-first century.

Both women and men were created, in the beginning, to be equal image-bearers of God.  God spoke to and related with and taught and loved both of them equally. There was no hierarchy until after the fall of humanity to sin. In 1 Timothy, Paul was not telling women that they could not teach because they were second-rate in comparison to men.  Rather, he was telling women that they should take up their rightful place as disciples of Christ and learn the correct doctrines of the faith.  He was encouraging women to live productive lives and cease the propagation of evil that came from false teaching.  And at this particular time and on this particular occasion, Paul suggested that the way these first century Ephesian women could be saved and delivered from the evil of idleness and propagation of lies was through childbirth and childrearing.

To say that this Bible study was eye-opening is a gross understatement!

Click here to go to the next part in the series.


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